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The progress of mankind along the lines of ethical perfec- 
tion leading toward the goal of a united humanity has been 
accomplished by two distinct processes: the process of conceiv- 
ing high ethical ideals and the equally important but neverthe- 
less distinct process of their application to life. Ethical ideals 
are first conceived and expressed by some great mind prophet, 
priest or teacher. Only afterward do the people, striving for 
moral improvement, make these ethical concepts the basis of 
law and enactment. Thus they endeavor to make the ideal real. 
The one process, by a fiction of language, may be called theoret- 
ical, the other practical. In the methods whereby each process 
attempts to accomplish its results there is great difference. The 
method of the one consists in so expressing the great ethical 
ideals as to inspire men to achieve them. The other process, 
seeking to apply these ideals to every-day living, endeavors to 
create a practical discipline w-hereby to train men in the ob- 
servance of the same ideals. This constitutes the difference, in 
eA r ery age, between the utterances of the great moral leaders 
and the practical, legislative decrees of the lawmakers. Both 
methods of procedure, complementing each other as they do, 
are of equal importance for the accomplishment of the ethical 
perfection of man. If the prophets and seers of mankind give 
us the ideals that guide our conduct from afar, like lighthouses 
on the promontories of life, the lawgivers and judges, formulat- 
ing their practical rules and decisions, place in our hands the 
humble candles whereby we see how to make the very necessary 
daily steps of life. And the great journey toward the goal of 
a united humanity is made up of these humble steps. 



In Judaism, which aims to accomplish the ethical and reli- Stack 
gious perfection of man, we observe the same interplay of these Aex 
two processes. In one important respect, however, the progress 
of these two processes in Judaism differs from that in any other 
historic movement for the moral improvement of mankind. In 
every other movement radical changes have taken place, from 
time to time, both in the ethical concepts as well as in their 
application. It often happened that the practical endeavors 
succeeded in realizing the ideals to such an extent as to make 
these ideals become antiquated. The people having outgrown 
the old ideals, new ideals had to be conceived in order to lead 
men on to further progress. In Judaism, however, only the 
practical application of the Divine principles changed from 
time to time. Certain practices and laws which for one period 
served as the expression of the ideal became antiquated in 
another period and had, therefore, to be abandoned. In its 
outward forms Judaism changed from time to time. At differ- 
ent times and different places, new customs and new prac- 
tices were adopted to express the same religious ideals. But 
in its ideals and fundamental principles Judaism has not 
changed. It has remained the same throughout its history. 
The ideals as well as the fundamental principles laid down by 
the God-inspired teachers and prophets of old are of eternal 
value. They express Divine truths that have neither become 
antiquated nor have they been surpassed by any teachings of 
other religious systems. The prophetic ideals are still the lofti- 
est ideals which man has conceived, and the fundamental prin- 
ciples of Judaism, its laws of morality and righteousness, are 
still the highest principles that have ever been taught. 


For Judaism to achieve its great aim, it was therefore only 
necessary that the formulation of its high ideals and noble 
principles should be followed by endeavors at their practical 
application in daily life. This actually took place in the course 
of the history of Judaism. First the prophets, God-inspired 
men, gave expression to the highest ideals of love and peace, 



justice and righteousness, and held aloft the vision of a perfect 
humanity and a true brotherhood of man. Then followed the 
legislators and teachers of the law who seriously set themselves 
the task of making the prophetic ideals real, by applying the 
noble principles taught by the prophets to the actual conditions 
of life. I do not refer to the Biblical legislators who, in the 
various law codes embodied in the Bible, endeavored to put 
prophetic ideals to practical use. I refer mainly to those legis- 
lators and teachers of the law who were rightly considered the 
true successors of the prophets, namely, the rabbis and teachers 
of the Halakah. 


These ancient Jewish teachers have often been unjustly criti- 
cised by Christian scholars. They have been pictured as nar- 
row-rninded jurists and pedantic formalists who did not progress 
along the lines laid down by the prophets. Instead of cherish- 
ing and developing the ideals of the prophets they are said to 
have retrograded and to have marred the beauty of the pro- 
phetic religion by the legalistic setting which they gave to it. 
Their teachings, especially those of the Halakah, are represented 
to be merely legalistic in character void of the spirit of true reli- 
gion. They are said to concern themselves merely with the out- 
ward conduct without regard to the inner motives. As a result 
of this criticism it has become quite prevalent among Christian 
theologians to distinguish between the teachings of the prophets 
and the teachings of the rabbis, and to represent rabbinic Juda- 
ism as something different and inferior to the religion of the 

These criticisms are based upon misconception and bias. 
They draw an altogether wrong picture of the ancient rabbis and 
give a false characterization of the teachings of the Halakah and 
of rabbinic Judaism. The accusation of narrow-mindedness does 

not apply to the ancient teachers of the Halakah as much as to 
their modern critics, who find it difficult to appreciate anything 
that is not Christian. The Christian theologians, despite their 
learning and scholarship, cannot rid themselves of the prejudice 



which they imbibed from the polemical writings of the New 
Testament against the Pharisaic teachers of the Halakah. With- 
out a comprehensive knowledge of Rabbinic literature and with- 
out a thoroughgoing understanding of the Halakic teachings, 
they proceed to judge the entire Halakah by the few quota- 
tions found in the works written by opponents of the Halakah 
and enemies of the Rabbis. Such a procedure is uncritical, 
unscientific and unjust. As may be expected, the judgments 
arrived at by such methods are erroneous and false. It is abso- 
lutely wrong to speak of the Judaism of the Rabbis as essen- 
tially different from the religion of the prophets. The teach- 
ings of, the prophets and the teachings of the Rabbis are but 
slightly different expressions of one and the same religion. Both 
are teachings of Judaism which have at all times remained the 
same in essence and principle. 


The Rabbis who followed the prophets in time were also 
their successors in spirit. As the age of prophesy came to an 
end, the age of the Halakah began. The period of the prophets 
was followed by the period of the wise teachers. To use the 
words of the Talmud: 1 "the task of prophecy [i.e., to reveal 
God's truth], was taken from the prophets and assigned to the 
wise teachers." These wise teachers,- the Rabbis, realized the 
great responsibility that rested upon them, the responsibility of 
continuing the work of the prophets. They never lost sight of 
the noble- visions of the prophets and never forgot their ethical 
teachings. They had them constantly in mind and cherished 
them in their hearts even more than some of their modern 
critics who are so loud in praising the prophetic teachings with 
their lips. But the Rabbis believed that the prophets had 
reached the very highest summit in ethical ideas, and that 
nothing could be added to their ethical and moral teachings. 
They, therefore, came to the conclusion that all that was left to 
them to do as successors of the prophets was to realize these 
ethical teachings in practice. The Rabbis appreciated the beauty 

B. Batra, I2a. 


of the prophetic ideals as much as their Christian critics, but 
they also appreciated the fact which the Christian theologians 
do not, that ideals lose their value if unaccompanied by actions 
and remain merely beautiful phrases without any practical in- 
fluence upon life and conduct. The Rabbis believed that "the 
main thing is conduct and not theorizing" 2 and that "study 
is valuable only because it is conducive to good deeds." 3 They, 
therefore, thought that the noble teachings and beautiful ideas 
of the prophets were not to be treated as ornaments, but to be 
turned into articles for common use in the household of human- 
ity. This task the Rabbis set themselves to accomplish in their 
Halakic rules and decisions. And in justice it should be stated 
that for the advancement of the cause of religion and the pro- 
motion of ethical teachings this activity of the Rabbis was not 
less important than the activity of the prophets. Prophet and 
Rabbi both directed their efforts to the same goal; they merely 
used different ways to attain it. The prophets sought to inspire 
men to good deeds by teaching high ideals and holding aloft 
noble visions. The Rabbis tried to lead men to a realization 
of these visions and ideals by training them in the exercise of 
such good deeds as are expressive of high ideals. The prophets 
showed the ways of God to man, the Rabbis led man in these 
ways by teaching him to imitate God in all his doings. 4 Both, 
however, worked to accomplish the same end, viz., to make man 
know the Lord and walk in His ways. 5 

2 ntrpon K^K ipiyn Kin enion K^I Abot I, 17. 

3 nvyQ 1^ KO llD^nrw ^nj niO^n Kiddushin, 40b, or as it is ex- 
pressed in B. Kamma, 17a.nt?J?B n'^ K'DO TlD^m? mifl 110'^ 'im^'If one 
seeks to acquire religious ideas without the intention of putting them into 
practical use, it would have been better for him if he had not been born. 
K113 K^ l^K 1^ ni3 nitfj^ Kte TO^n ( Jer. Shabbat, I, 3b) is another say- 
ing of the Talmud, insisting that religious ideas must find expression in 
corresponding good actions. 

* &L, udc,,uv3Yrt mn man rw n'Jiiao moan nn Pesikta Rabbati.. 

Ill, editio Friedman, p. 7b. 

'This is the most characteristic feature of Judaism, prophetic and 
arabinic. It is not a system of mere beliefs, nor is it merely a system of 
religious ceremonies and rites. It is a religion of right conduct and good 
deeds based upon the belief in the One true God, who is righteous and good, 



One thing must be said. As practical teachers the Rabbis 
had very often to compromise [and make concessions]. At times 
they had to be satisfied with merely approaching the ideal though 
not fully reaching it. They believed that a constant training 
in the exercise of right conduct and continuous practice of right 
deeds would inculcate in the heart of a man right principles 
and help him to cultivate noble ideas, thus bringing him nearer 
to a realization of the ideal. The Rabbis saty: "A man should 
occupy himself with the study of the Torah and the practice 
of good deeds, even though at first he is not animated by the 
most ideal motives. In the end he will perform these acts for 
their own sake. " 6 "A wise and practical teacher is sometimes 
better than a prophetic dreamer," says the Talmud. 7 The 
practical teacher ready to make concessions when necessary and 
endeavoring to gain ground slowly but surely, accomplishes more 
than the idealistic dreamer. The visionary who, with his ideal 
ever before him, is not satisfied with anything less than the ideal 
and who uncompromisingly demands either the full realization 
of the ideal or nothing, will gain nothing. The teachers of the 
Halakah knew that wen K^> rano ntrsn . If you demand too 
much you gain nothing. They were satisfied to gain a little at a 
time, thus coming gradually nearer to the full realization of the 


The teachers of the Halakah gravely apprehended the danger 
involved in continuing the prophetic method. They feared that 

and who wants man to imitate Him by being righteous and doing good. 
This idea finds its adequate expression in the halakic regulation concern- 
ing the reading of the Shema, i.e., the confession of faith recited daily by 
the Jew. This was so arranged by the Halakah as to impress upon the 
Jew that he must first take upon himself the yoke of the Kingdom of God, 
i.e., acknowledge that there is only one God who alone rules the universe, 
and then take upon himself the yoke of the commandments, that is. take 
it upon himself to do what God the acknowledged ruler of the world com- 
mands him to do (M. Berakot, IT, 2). 

6 D'Ka notr 1 ? K 1 ?^ iino^ notr 1 ? K'IV I^BK msoai miro DTK pioj?> 

ni3B^ (Pesahim, 50b.) 

D2Pl(B. Batra, 12a. ) 


the people might be led astray by aspiring but mistaken or even 
false prophets, who, departing from the teachings of the true 
prophets, would dream strange dreams and see strange visions. 
Moreover, the teachers felt that merely teaching the ideal with- 
out trying to apply it practically would result in still further 
removing the ideal from the real. The noble ideas and principles 
would then become beautiful but empty phrases, with perhaps 
some shadowy mystic meaning, but without efficacy as guides for 
practical life. The subsequent history of the development of 
the religions teachings of the prophets in Judaism and Chris- 
tianity justifies the apprehensions of the teachers of the Halakah. 
It argues great wisdom and foresight on their part to have 
chosen as their activity the practical application of the ideals 
of the prophets. The Talmudic saying, N'DJD epiy osn, proved it- 
self to be absolutely true. The practical methods of the wise 
teachers of the Halakah proved to be far more efficacious than 
the course pursued by some of the aspiring prophets of their 
day. The application given to the fundamental principle of 
Judaism by the practical teachings of the Halakah yielded bet- 
ter results than the mere theoretical preaching of that same 
principle by the writers of the New Testament. Verily, "by 
their fruits shall ye know them!" (Matt. vii. 16.) 

It is well known that, when Jesus declared the command- 
ment, "thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Lev. xix. 
18) to be the second greatest commandment of the Law (Matt, 
xxii. 39), he merely repeated what every Jewish teacher before 
and during his time had taught. There was, however, a great 
difference between the Jewish conception and application of this 
noble principle and the Christian understanding of the same. 
The Jewish teachers in declaring this principle to be the funda- 
mental principle of the religion, the whole Law, taught at the 
sa'me time that the rest of the Law also had its legitimate place ; 
that the other commandments leading up to this consummation 
of the Law must also be observed. As Hillel expressed it, 8 ' ' all 
the rest is merely a commentary," KTI NBMVB TTNI, but a com- 
mentary which one must know, "Go and study it," 110:1 ^'t , in 

Shabbat, 31a. 


order to learn from it how to apply correctly the one principle, 
the golden rule. Christianity has accepted the text of Leviticr.s 
xix. 18, without the Commentary, the golden rule without the 
whole system of its practical application. The Law was declared 
as abrogated. Paul said, "All the Law is fulfilled in one 
word." (Galatians v. 14.) But the result was that the so- 
called fulfilment of the Law remained merely a word. The 
Love preached by Christianity did not prove to be that love 
which "worked no ill to his neighbor" (Romans xiii. 10.) Quite 
to the contrary, it wrought great harm. The principle, "love 
thy neighbor as thyself," was for many centuries upon the 
lips of Christian nations without any influence upon their char- 
acter and conduct. They even committed the most horrible 
crimes and perpetrated the most cruel acts of hatred in the name 
of that very religion of love, npj?' 'jip 'bipn . The voice was the 
voice of Jacob, repeating the Jewish teachings of brotherly love, 
but ivy 'T D'im the hands remained the bloody hands of Esau 
inflicting injury and evil. 


The teachers of the Halakah, on the other hand, retained 
the Law, studied and practiced it, knowing well that it was the 
necessary and indispensable commentary to the golden rule. 
Viewing the entire Torah as a commentary to the golden rule, 
the Rabbis believed that the aim and purpose of all the com- 
mandments of the Torah was to establish peace and friendly re- 
lations between man and man. oite 'SYT 'JSD nlna rmnn ^ . In 
the light of this belief they, therefore, interpreted the Torah in 
such a manner as to make all its laws the expressions of ethical 
ideals, conducive to the promotion of righteousness, peace and 
love among men. In all their discussions and teachings we find 
that they aimed at the high ideals of the prophets which they 
believed to be the purpose of all the commandments. By their 
explanations and modifications of the Biblical laws they sought 
to give to the latter a moral and religious aspect, and in their 
own legal enactments they were guided by ethical considera- 

Gittin, 59b. 


tions and based their rules and decisions on sound moral 

Before proceeding to prove this thesis by instances from the 
Halakic teachings, it is perhaps proper to show that it was the 
generally accepted opinion of the Halakah that all the laws of 
the Torah were merely a means to an end, and that this end 
was conceived to be the prophetic ideal of a Messianic era, when 
peace and brotherly Igve will prevail among all people. 

It will also help us to understand the ethics of the Halakah 
better, if we first make clear to ourselves what views the Halakah 
held in regard to the origin and character of the laws of the 


We have seen above that Hillel declared the whole Torah 
with all its commandments to be merely a commentary for the 
purpose of explaining the golden rule and guiding us in its 
application. This was not the opinion of Hillel alone, it was 
the opinion held by all the teachers of the Halakah. No mention 
is made of any objection to this view on the part of any teacher. 
The idea that the ritual, precepts and ceremonial laws will not 
be necessary for all time is a logical consequence of this view 
about the commandments of the Torah. So, indeed, we find 
that the teachers of the Halakah expressed their opinion that 
at some future time, in the Messianic age, men will have learned 
the lesson of brotherly love and will no longer be in need of 
a commentary to the golden rule. Then the commentary will 
be dispensed with and all those laws and practices commanded 
by the Torah for the purpose of training men to follow the ideal, 
will lose their function, or, to use the words of the Talmud 
Niddah, 61b) KS^ Tnj^ ni^tsi mso. "In the Messianic age the 
laws will be suspended." 10 The teachers, however, believed that 

10 The idea expressed in this saying is also expressed in other sayings 
of the Rabbis. Thus it is declared by the rabbis, that in the future age, 
K3^> VflJ?^ all the sacrifices and all prayers, with the exception of thanks- 
giving, will be abolished (Midrash Tehillim, LVI, editio Buber, p. 145a). 
Likewise in Midrash Mishle, IX (editio Buber, p. 31a), it is declared 
that all the festivals, with the exception of Purim and (according to R. 



inasmuch as the ideal of brotherly love had not been realized 
and the Messianic era had not arrived, therefore the commentary 
to the golden rule was still necessary and the laws of the Torah 
were still to be observed. 


It should be kept in mind that the teachers of the Halakah 
believed in D'OIMI \o min , in the Divine origin of the entire Torah. 
According to their belief even the laws and commandments 
which form the commentary were given by God. God in his 
goodness desires us to be good, for the purpose of training us 
to a life of goodness and helping us to attain to holiness. He 
has prescribed for us all these rules and precepts which we must 
keep if we wish to realize the ideal. They appreciated the great 
favor which God has shown them in giving them that ' ' precious 
article, ' ' man ' ^a , the Torah with all its laws and precepts. 

Eleazar) the Day of Atonement, will in the future age to^ Tfiy^ cease 
to be observed. These sayings show that the rabbis entertained the hope 
and the belief that the ritual laws will not be necessary and therefore be 
abolished in the Messianic age. For it is evident that the term N2 1 ? TDJ?^ 
in these sayings refers to the Messianic era and not to the state of life 
after death. About the latter state the rabbis have another explicit say- 
ing, declaring that in the life after death a man is free from the observance 
of any law or commandment, m^DM ]D ifffin nJ?3 DTK not* ]1>3 (Shab- 
bat), 151b), and they do not make any exception regarding thanksgiving 
or even the Day of Atonement. . The claim of Christianity that the 
Messiah had already come and the law was no more binding, probably had 
the effect that the rabbis did not care to express so often the idea that 
the ritual laws will at some future time be abolished (see my article 
"Nomism," in Jewish Encyclopedia, IX, p. 328). The same consideration, 
no doubt, prompted the medieval Jewish teachers to explain away the sim- 
ple meaning of the Talmudic sayings that the laws will be abolished in the 
future. Thus Tossofot in Niddah, ad. Inc., s. v. niDlK nT *|D1' 31 *1BK 
while admitting that the term K2^ TDJ^ means the Messianic age, seek 
to identify this Messianic era with the era after the resurrection of 
the dead. Likewise R. Solomon b. Aderet, in his Responsa, 93, interprets 
the saying, that in the future the festivals will no more be observed, to 
mean that the many persecutions and great troubles which will fall to the 
lot of the Jews may compel them to cease to observe the festivals. A very 
ingenious but nevertheless incorrect interpretation. 



(Aboth. iii. 14.) Far from considering these laws and com- 
mandments burdensome, they realized their helpfulness. "God 
was pleased to favor and ennoble Israel," says R. Hananya b. 
Akashya, "therefore he gave them a copious Torah with nu- 
merous commandments." 11 This belief that God gave us all 
the laws and precepts of -the Torah for our own good, finds ex- 
pression in the very designation iworn , ' ' our lover ' ' or the ' ' Mer- 
ciful One," very often used as the name of God in the halakic 
discussions. 12 Thus, the Rabbis refer to the author of these 
laws as the God who because of His mercy and great love for 
us gave us all these commandments which should help us to 
lead a noble and pure life. They do not think of Him merely 
as a stern Lawgiver who issues decrees for purposes of His own 
and commands His people to obey them for His own pleasure. 
They realized that God has no profit in these law r s and no other 
purpose than to further the welfare of His creatures. "For, in- 
deed, what difference does it make to God," asks the Rabbis, 
"how we slaughter an animal, or of what kind of food we par- 
take, except that He desires by such laws and regulations to 
benefit His creatures, to purify their hearts, and to ennoble their 
characters." 13 

11 .mxoi mm on 1 : rrnn VB') ^tots" n mat 1 ? n"apn run (Makkot, 


12 By applying this designation to God the rabbis also wished to sug- 
gest the thought. Be ye merciful, as your father in heaven is merciful 
(see Luke vi. 36). When they objected to those who would declare this 
idea to be the sole reason for certain commandments of the Torah (Jer. 
Magillah, 75c), it was merely a reaction against the Antinomian tenden- 
cies of the Allegoristic schools. (Compare my essay on "The Ancient Jewish 
Allegorists in Talmud and Midrash," in the Jewish Quarterly Review, new 
series, Vol. I, pp. 528 ff.) 

13 ^IKI nona nma 1 ? nmtt "JOINI noni tamty ]o iV'spii'? ner'K no '3i 
nsiirt niNOu ^3iK ]i ri nss'N no IN ? ipno TN I'r'jno 01^3 nm 

(Tanhuma Buber, .nman DK jna eps 1 ? ^N rnxon lino N 1 ? n ?nnna 

Shemini, p. 30. Compare also Genes, r. XLIV, 1.) The idea expressed in this 
saying greatly helps us to understand the psychological process in the mind 
of the rabbis when engaged in minute discussions of ritual or dietary laws. 
Their firm conviction that God gave us these laws for the purpose of 
making us nobler and better, forced them to believe that all the details of 
these laws help to serve this purpose and make us holy. In the minutiae 




In dealing with the laws of the Torah the primary concern of 
the Rabbis is always to discover the underlying ethical purpose. 
In some laws of the Torah this ethical purpose is explicitly 
stated, in others it is implied, and in still others the moral justifi- 
cation is ascertained by the Rabbis only after long and arduous 
debate. Even the ritual laws of the Torah, where one would 
least expect to find direct moral injunctions, are studiously and 
often successfully examined from this point of view. 14 It is 
irrelevant to discuss whether these ethical purposes inhered in 
the text or were read into it. For us it is enough that the 
teachers of the Halakah believed that every law and command- 
ment of the Torah rested on an ethical foundation. Their very 
success, real or imaginary, in discovering the ethical purport of 
so many ritual laws, confirmed them in their belief that the 
commentary, consisting of the ritual and ceremonial law, was 
necessary for the proper realization of Hillel's moral text, and 
that every precept of the Torah, be its outward form what it 
may, served, if not patently, then at least subtly and imper- 
ceptibly toward the great and overmastering aim of moral per- 
fection. So strong was their conviction that a moral purpose 
inhered in every law, that failure to discern the purpose in any 
particular case did not affect their attitude toward that law. 
When ingenuity failed to unravel the ethical purpose of an 

of the ritual of na>ntt> they saw a means of teaching us not to be cruel to 
animals. They believed, that to inflict torture upon animals is forbidden 
by the law of the Torah KrpmtH D'TI 'tya 1JH (Shabbat, 
128b). In the dietary laws they could not see old Tabu laws, for such a 
conception would have been out of harmony with their idea of the Divine 
character of the Torah. They saw in the dietary laws beneficial hygienic 
laws, or disciplinary rules to train us to control our desires and submit 
our impulses to a higher will. They also considered them as a means to 
make Israel distinct as a holy people and keep him separate from all other 

" Thus, for instance, in the precept of Levit. xiv. 36, the Halakah finds 
indicated the lesson that we must spare and save even the smallest article 
of the possessions of others, even of wicked people (M. Negaim, XII, 5). 
For further illustrations of how the Halakah finds ethical lessons indicated 
in the ritual laws see below. 



enactment, they nevertheless counseled its observance on the 
ground that the disciplinary value of implicit obedience is in 
itself a means to a moral purpose. 


But they never lost sight of the fact that the legal enact- 
ments and ritual laws of the Torah were merely a means to an 
end, which is moral perfection. They declared that all the pre- 
cepts and ritual laws of the Torah put together cannot equal in 
importance one ethical principle of the Torah. 15 They strictly 
forbade the observance of a ritual precept or ceremonial law, 
if such an observance involved the disregard of an ethical 
principle. 16 An act prompted by moral considerations, even 
though it violates the strict letter of the law, is, in the opinion of 
the teachers of the Halakah, of greater value than the most care- 
ful performance of a prescribed ritual act or ceremonial law, 
but which is purposeless as far as the ethical motive is con- 
cerned. 17 "For," said they, "God desires the heart." 18 They 
did not set a fictitious value on mere conformity. They did not 
hesitate to declare that sometimes the abrogation of certain forms 
of the Law might be the means for preserving the spirit of the 
Law. 19 When the cause of God, i.e., of true religion requires, 
then the ritual laws shall be abolished, say the Rabbis. 20 It 
rests with the teachers of each generation, according to the 
Talmud, to determine whether the cause of Judaism will be 
furthered by the abolition of certain ritual or ceremonial laws. 
They have the authority to abolish even a Biblical law. 21 

Such were the views held by the teachers of the Halakah 

15 .rmnn jo THR m'? mitr P'R mm to rpnixa ^a i^BN(Jer. Peah, 


16 nvajD nton msa (Sukkah, 30a.) 

17 not?'? Rto msoo not? 1 ? maj? rVrnji (Nazir, 23b.) 

18 'jn R2 1 ^ RIH ina trnpn (Sanhedrin, 106b.) 

19 miD* Rin It mm to rhwiV D<J?S (Menahot, 99ab.) 

20 irnin nen 't*? mtrj? 1 ? ny (M. Berakot, end.) 

21 mifin 10 *m llpj^ pano V3 (Jebamot, 89b and 90b.) About the 
restrictions to the application of this principle see Nimuke Joseph to 
Jebamot. ad loc., and my article "Nomism," in Jewish Encyclopedia, IX. 



about the origin, character and purpose of the Torah. These 
views alone should suffice to disprove the current, false opinions 
about the character of the Halakah, and should vindicate its 
teachers against the charge of narrow-minded legalism. These 
general statements made by the teachers of the Halakah reveal 
to us the true ethical character of the Halakah. They show 
us that the teachers of the Halakah always held before them 
the ideal of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, 
and that in their discussions and regulations they aimed to help 
man walk in the ways of God the father and love man the 
brother. They further demonstrate that the teachers of the 
Halakah emphasized the true motive power for all moral action, 
that is, the inner ethical will, and that they insisted not upon 
outward conformity to the letter of the Law, but on an ethical 
religious life according to the spirit of the Law. 

A detailed examination will prove that the Halakah in all 
its teachings, whether defining and applying Biblical laws or 
enacting laws of its own, is guided by ethical principles, and 
by the desire to realize the prophetic ideals. The Halakah com- 
prised the entire life of the Jewish people. An attempt, there- 
fore, to give a detailed discussion of all its teachings' would 
mean to present a complete system of Jewish ethics. This, of 
course, cannot be given in one paper and in one session. Your 
president, Dr. Schulman, has suggested to me that I limit myself 
to a discussion of those regulations of the Halakah which deal 
with questions of social righteousness. This was, indeed, a very 
wise suggestion, as this part of the Ilalakah is best fitted to 
demonstrate the fact that even in its minute discussions and in 
legal regulations the Halakah endeavored to carry out the pro- 
phetic ideas of justice and righteousness. We will, therefore, 
examine some of the laws and regulations of the Halakah deal- 
ing with relations between neighbors, between employer and 
employee, seller and buyer, benefactor and beneficiary. It will 
be our endeavor to learn what ethical principles underly the 
Halakic teachings regulating these various relations between 
man and man. And if I may be permitted to anticipate the 
results of my inquiry, I would say that we shall find that the 
passion for social righteousness characterized the teachings of 



the Rabbis as it did the utterances of the prophets. The com- 
bination of law and religion insisted upon by the Halakah did 
not result in reducing religion to mere legalism, but resulted In 
giving to the law the sanction of religion. 22 



\\Y begin our discussion of the ethical principles contained 
in the teachings of the Halakah by first examining one of the 
central ideas around which many of the ethical principles are 
grouped. A very characteristic idea underlying the ethics of 
the Halakah is the high regard for human life. The idea ex- 
pressed in the Biblical story of Creation that all men are created 
in the image of God is considered by the Halakah as a funda- 
mental principle of Judaism, 23 second only to the command- 
ment : ' ' Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. ' ' This idea 
teaches that every human being, made in the image of God, has 
within him a Divine spark his soul and is, therefore, capa- 
ble of helping to realize God 's plan in the universe. The Divine 

22 The passages in Rabbinic literature, expressing the idea that honesty 
and uprightness are essential for the religious life, are too numerous to be 
cited here. I shall only quote here one utterance of the teachers of the 
Halakah which declares emphatically that one cannot believe in God 
and be dishonest to his fellow-man. Tosefta Shebuot, II, 6, it is said 
ip'yi IfllSff I? irPBJD BTV3 DTK PN A man cannot act treacherously 
toward his fellow-man unless he denies God. In denying the right to his 
fellow-man he denies the fundamental principle of the religion, viz., that 
God commands us to be righteous and do justice. 

^IDN IKTJ; in .mim ^TU ^bs m IDIN to'pp m IIBS un 1 ? nsriNi 

Sifra Kedoshim, IV, editio Weiss. .HTO ^TU tf>3 HT .OIK nn^in 1DD HT 
p. 89b. (Compare Rabad in his commentary, ad loc., and Jalkut to Genesis, 
40.) Ben Azzai's saying is to be understood in the sense that the belief 
that man is made in the image of God is not greater in importance but 
more comprehensive than the commandment, thou shalt love thy neighbor 
as thyself. The former gives the reason for the latter. It identifies the 
commandment, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, with the command- 
ment, thou shalt love the Lord thy God. Love thy neighbor as thyself 
because, like thyself, he is made in the image of God, and by loving man, 
His creature, you manifest your love for God the Creator. Compare also 
the saying in Abot D.R. Xathnn. Version I, Ch. XVI, Schechter. p. 32b. 



spark within him makes every human being an actual or poten- 
tial ethical factor. His importance lies in the possibility of his 
rendering service to the cause of humanity and the cause of 
God. It is a logical consequence of the belief in the God-like 
nature of man that the highest value attaches to human life". 
The Halakah accordingly teaches that the life of a human being 
is to be saved at any cost and his health is to be preserved even 
at the sacrifice of all laws and precepts. Three grave sins, 
incest, murder and idolatry, constitute the exceptions to this 
rule. 24 Excepting the injunctions against these three crimes, no 
consideration for any religious law should hinder the saving of 
life. 25 The Halakah teaches that all the laws of the Torah must 
be ignored when the life or the health of a human being is con- 
cerned. For in every human life there is the possibility of 
service to the cause of humanity, so that the saving of one life 
may be the saving of the whole world, and the loss of one life 
may result in the loss of a whole world. 26 We should not hesi- 
tate to transgress the law 7 even if it is doubtful whether by such 
transgression the endangered life will be saved or even when 
there is doubt as to whether real danger to life exists. 27 


This great importance attached to human life by the Hala- 
kah, even going so far as to suspend all the laws in cases where 
danger threatens, is but the logical result of the two principal 
views held by the Halakah. The first of these principles is that 
the purpose of the entire law is the furtherance of the cause of 
humanity. The second is that every human being is capable of 
contributing toward the cause of humanity and thus helping 
in the realization of God's plan. The saving of the indi- 
vidual means, therefore, the preservation of a moral factor in 

24 nn nrp rfi -nay :nnn *6i nny rt jnoiN DN mima> rnvajr ^a 
Sanhedrin, 74a, and D'oi nia'fitn nmy n 1 ?; ,m? mnpo 

Pesahim, 25a. V'BBM y"x f"j? fin 1'KBino ^33 

25 B>SJ mp'B JB3 IBlJJtf -DT "ft pK Joma, 82a. 

26l ?tw nn B>BJ D"pm N^O n^iy 13K I^KS ^owa nnn B>BJ nnnn 

M. Sanhedrin, IV, 5. N^D 0*71? D"p I'J'KS 

27 nit? nnn m^sa pso I^BK M. Joma, VIII, 6. 



the cause of humanity. The violation of the law for the sake of 
preserving the life of a human being really becomes the means 
of helping to realize the purpose of the Law. That this was 
the reason for ignoring the Law when danger to life was in- 
volved, is expressly stated by the Halakah. Thus the Halakic 
principle, "the Sabbath is given to you and not you to the 
Sabbath," 28 which means that the Sabbath must be violated 
when the life or health of a human being is at stake, is supple- 
mented by the further explanation : ' ' Violate one sabbath for 
the sake of this individual, so that he may live to keep many 
Sabbaths. ' ' 20 This means, save life at the cost of violating the 
Sabbath, for the life thus saved may contribute much to the 
cause which the observance of the Sabbath is to serve. The 
principle expressed here in regard to the Sabbath is applied by 
the Halakah to all the other Iaw 7 s of the Torah. The Halakah 
subtly emphasizes that they were all given in order that man 
may live by them and not die because of them. 30 The purpose 
of the Torah being to guide man in his labor for humanity, it 
would defeat its own purpose if it deprived itself of laborers 
by insisting upon a too strict observance of its precepts. 


Since potential usefulness for the cause of humanity deter- 
mines the value of life, it follows that the imperative duty of 
preserving human life applies to all without distinction. The 
Halakah, therefore, consistently teaches that a person owes the 
same duty to his life and his health as he owes to the life and 
health of others. 


A man has no right to dispose of his life without considera- 
tion of his fellow-man. For he does not belong to himself alone. 
He belongs to humanity at large in whose cause he is to work. 

28 natri P11DO DfiK ]K1 miDB rnv Olh Mekilta Ki Tisa, Weiss, 105b. 

29 rmn mrnt? VQV*V na DHK nv i'ty ttn ibidem, Weiss, I06a. 

30 OJia niB'tr 6l Dm mi Sifra. Ahare, XIII; Weiss, p. 86b. 
Sanhedrin, 74a. 



He is the D'n 1 ? np, the servant of the many. He has, therefore, 
no right to withdraw from his post of duty and deprive hu- 
manity of his service. Even if a man sees no purpose in his 
continuing to live and believes himself to be a burden to so- 
ciety, he has no right to dispose of his life. It may still be- 
come possible for him to render some service to humanity. He 
has no right to deprive society of this possibility, slight as it 
may be. Suicide, under any circumstances, is, therefore, strong- 
ly condemned by the Halakah. It is considered as an act of 
murder for which God will hold the suicide responsible. 31 The 
Halakah forbids not only to destroy one's life but even to ruin 
one's health or to inflict injury upon one's body. 32 In discuss- 
ing the dietary laws the Halakah is guided by the principle that 
it is much more important to avoid injury to health than to 
avoid violations of Biblical injunctions. 33 Nay, even to hurt 
oneself by fasting or to deprive oneself of a legitimate pleasure 
is considered a sin. 34 To care for one's body and keep it in good 
health is declared by Hillel to be a religious duty, 35 for in doing 
this we contribute to the public health. 


Just as one has no right to injure his body or ruin his health 
because of the evil consequences for the health and welfare of 
his fellow-man, so he has not the right, according to the Halakah, 
to waste his property because such an act may result in evil 
for his fellow-man. Thus the Halakah forbids a man to squan- 
der his fortune even for charity, lest he himself become a burden 
upon society. 36 If a man cuts down young trees, even if they 

31 D3DT flN 1YTK DrnniffSJ TO IDIK N"T "B. Kamma, 91b. The decision, 
declaring suicide, when committed in order to escape disgrace, permis- 
sible, which is ascribed to Asheri (Responsa collection, Besamim Rosh, 
345), is a false decision, and was never given by Asheri. See Jacob Brull 
in his notes to his edition of H. Chajes' Igeres Bikoves, p. llb-12a. 

32 IDSja ^nn 1 ? iKtn DTK p . B. Kamma, 91b. 

33 JOID'NB NflJUD NVOn Hullin, lOa. 

34 B. Kamma, 1. c., and Taanit, lla. 

35 Leviticus, R. xxxiv. 3. 

36 rnna 1 ? -pax' KOB> e>ino "ini nta' to tstatsn Ketubot, 50a. 



are in his own garden, he should be punished. 37 If a man tears 
many garments in mourning for the dead, he is to be punished. 38 
In either case he has violated the law of rprwi ^3, th<s prohibition 
against wastefulness. The principle underlying these Halakic 
regulations is the idea, that man is a member of the human 
family and as such he must have consideration for the interests 
of this larger family. Although a man has the right to dispose 
of his property, the exercise of this right should not result 
in harm to others. 


The Halakah regarded it as a man's duty so to use his own 
possessions as to increase his usefulness to society and enhance 
the well-being of his fellow-men. This high regard for the wel- 
fare of our fellow-men is the guiding principle of the Halakah 
in its laws about the relations between man and man. It is not 
enough that we should not injure the life, health, property, 
honor and.wellbeing of our neighbors; we should concern our- 
selves with their preservation and enhancement. According to 
the Halakah this duty is incumbent upon us even in such cases 
where we could not be compelled to do so by the letter of the 
law. This duty extends even to fellow-men who by their own 
conduct have forfeited their claim upon our consideration. 


A few regulations of the Halakah will suffice to show that 
this was its spirit. "The honor and personal dignity of any 
human being," declares the Halakah, "are to be so highly re- 
garded as to set aside any prohibitory law of the Torah." 39 
Thus, if the observance of a ritual law is apt to subject a man 
to indignity, that law may be dispensed with. This considera- 
tion for personal dignity must, according to the Halakah, be ex- 
tended even to those who have apparently lost their sense of 
dignity and degraded themselves by committing a crime. This 

"Sifre, Deut., 213; Friedman, Illb; Makkot, 22a. 
38 B. Kamma, 91b. 

ne>jm rt nnnp mnsn 1133 ^>n:t Shabbat, sib. 


principle, according to the teachers of the Halakah, is expressed 
in the Biblical law: "If a man shall steal an ox or a sheep, 
and kill it or sell it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox and 
four sheep for a sheep" (Exod. xxi. 37. English Bible xxii. 
1). They point out that God himself respects the honor of 
every creature, even of the thief. The fine for stealing a sheep 
is smaller than for stealing an ox, because in stealing a sheep 
the thief was probably compelled to carry it on his shoulders. 
Under these circumstances, the Halakah says, he was certainly 
put to indignity. It is this humiliation which the law takes 
into consideration and reduces the fine. 40 


In meeting out punishment we must be careful not to add 
disgrace. 41 The thief who is sold into servitude must not be 
insulted by being called a 'slave. 42 Neither is he to be treated 
as a slave by being made to do the work of a slave. 43 


The regard for the personal feelings and sensibilities of our 
fellow-men, taught by the Halakah, is especially shown in its 
regulations concerning the relations between master and servant. 
A distinction is here made between servant and slave. The 
master has no right to humiliate the servant by making him 
do low or degrading work. 44 He has no right to assign to the 
servant work which he does not need, merely for the sake of 
keeping the servant busy. And lest the master pretends that he 
needs the work, the Halakah reminds him that when the Torah 
prohibited the master from ruling over the servant with rigor, 
it adds the words: "But thou shalt fear thy God" (Leviticus 
xxv. 43), who knows what is in thy heart. 45 The Halakah 
further enjoins that the servant must be given the same kind 

Mekilta Mishpatim, XII; Weiss, 95b, also B. Kamma, 79b. 

"Makkot, 22b'. 

"Mekilta Mishpatim, I; Weiss, 81b. 

48 Ibidem; Weiss, 82b. 

** Ibidem, 1. c. 

45 Sifra, Behar, VII, edetiv Weiss, 109. 



of food and the same kind of drink which the master partakes. 46 
The principle which underlies these regulations is, that only the 
product of the servant's labor belongs to the master. This alone 
the master pays for and has a right to demand. The personal 
honor and human dignity of the servant are his own sacred 
rights, which the master dare not infringe upon. The servant 
is to be treated as a fellow-man in all respects. Even in regard 
to the Canaanite slave the Halakah rules that the master has 
only the right to make him work, but not to insult him. 47 R. 
Johanan shared his meat and wine with his slave, declaring 
that the slave was a human being like himself and applying to 
him the words of Job xxxi. 15 :" Did not He that made me 
in the womb make him?" 48 


A most striking illustration of this spirit of the Halakah is 
found in the following discussion about a slave w r ho has acquired 
a title to half of his freedom. The school of Hillel at first was 
inclined to decide that the half-slave should work one day for 
his master and one day for himself. This arrangement w r ould 
be just according to the civil law, for to own a slave means to 
enjoy the product of his labor. In this case, therefore, where 
there are two owners to the slave, the master and the slave him- 
self, the product of the slave's labor should be equally divided. 
The school of Shammai, however, pointed out to the school of 
Hillel the fact that such an arrangement would provide well 
for the master but ill for the slave. The latter would be wronged 
by such an arrangement, because it fails to give him a definite 
status in society. By this arrangement he has neither the ad- 
vantages of a freeman nor the privileges of a slave. He is not 
permitted, for instance, to marry a slave, nor has he acquired 
the right of marrying a free woman. In this way he is de- 
prived of the inalienable right of founding a household. In 
consideration of these arguments, the school of Hillel agreed 

"Kiddushim, 20a. 

" runs'? K^I D>nna rmnj^ Kiddah, 47a. 

49 Jer. B. Kamma. VIII, 6c. 



with the school of Shammai, that for the betterment of the world 
and the improvements of the social conditions ohyn pp'n OBD, 
the master be compelled to give the slave a bill of freedom 
and receive from the slave a note for the amount which is still 
due. 49 


The Halakah takes cognizance of the fact that the strict ap- 
plication of the law of partnership would give the master, 
owning half interest in the slave, the right to continue this 
partnership and to share the products of the slave's labor in- 
definitely. However, the Halakah decides that D^ipn pp>n OBD 
for the sake of improving the social condition in the world, 
the master should be compelled to consider the slave as a human 
being with inalienable rights. For the sake of the slave's well- 
being the master should forego his right of continuous part- 
nership. Compare this high regard for the personal rights of 
the slave with our modern method of speaking of working- 
men as mere "hands." "We advertise for "hands," we engage 
"hands" and discharge "hands." In our industrial world we 
deal only with "hands," forgetful of the fact that these 
"hands" belong to human beings with hearts and feelings and 
with a sense of dignity. Our modern factory legislation could 
learn from the Halakah to apply the principle of D^ipn pp>n aso 
Out of regard for the moral improvement of society we owe 
the laborer more than the stipulated wage. "VVe must regard 
his personal comfort, his health and his sense of decency. 


Other regulations of the Halakah dealing with the employer 
and the employee are prompted by the same ethical spirit as 
shown above. They seek to protect the laborer and at the same 

Dl* IGXy DKl THN DT 131 flK 131)7 flltt p I'SHl 13JJ I'SntP 'O 

^ losy riNi in n onapn '* rp3 Dr6 nan ,^n rva nan 
jip>n 'JSD H'TK ...'bis' ia>N pmn m KB" 1 ? ^ia WK nnetr 
VJn no nrm .TDT sn ty lot? anisi ]mn p inn* PIB>IJM m n 

M. Eduyot, I, 13. KDttf H'3 



time to show due regard for the rights of the employer. In 
order to do both and establish friendly relations between em- 
ployer and employee, the Halakah does not hesitate to modify 
and even to overrule Biblical decrees. In doing so the Halakah 
expressly declares that we should be guided by ethical con- 
siderations even when they. make it necessary to decide against 
the letter of the law. In the following instance, the Halakah 
finds an exception to the Biblical law. According to the Bib- 
lical law a man who is sued for withholding money or valuables, 
can establish his innocence, in the absence of evidence, by taking 
on oath. This law, according to the Halakah, is not to be ap- 
plied in the case of an employer who is sued for withholding 
the wages of an employee. In this case the Halakah decides 
against the Biblical law and takes the privilege of the oath 
away from the defendant and gives it to the plaintiff. The 
employee affirming his claim by oath is awarded the payment 
of his wages. 50 This decision is justified by the Halakah on 
the supposition that it will please both parties. Even the em- 
ployer must needs be pleased by such a decision as it will work 
ultimate advantage in his favor. The Halakah is of the opin- 
ion that the strict application of the Biblical law, giving the 
employer the right effectively to deny on oath the claim of the 
workingman, would ultimately harm the employer. It might 
earn him a bad reputation and make it difficult for him to 
secure workingmen. 51 


Likewise, the Halakah frees the hired laborer from paying 
the damages for an article spoiled by him accidentally in the 
process of handling. Only, he must take an oath that the dam- 
age was caused by accident or mistake and not by willful negli- 
gence. This regulation the Halakah declares to be a rabbinic 
institution for the purpose of facilitating transactions between 
the laborer and his employer. 52 The following decision given 

60 M. Shebuot, VII, 1. 

"Shebuot, 45a. 

52 Kn D'osn napn IT npn B. Mezia, 83a. 



by Abba Areka in an actual case illustrates the ethical spirit in 
which the rabbis administered the law. Kabbah, the son of 
Huna, engaged certain carriers to transport barrels of wine 
from one place to another. In handling the barrels, the car- 
riers were evidently careless (see Rashi ad. loc.) and broke one 
barrel, spilling the wine. Rabbah, the employer, took away their 
mantles in order to secure himself for the payment of the dam- 
ages, a course of conduct which the law sanctioned. The car- 
riers, however, haled him before Abba Areka, who ordered him 
to return the mantles. When Rabbah asked, ' ' Is this the law ? ' ' 
Abba Areka answered, quoting Proverbs ii. 20: "Yes, 'in order 
that thou mayest walk in the ways of good men.' ' The car- 
riers then said : ' ' We are poor laborers ; we have spent the whole 
day on this work and now we are hungry and have nothing to 
eat." Abba Areka then ordered the employer, Rabbah, to pay 
them the stipulated wages. To the question of Rabbah, "Is 
this the law?" Abba Areka answered, quoting the second half 
of the verse in Proverbs: "Yes, 'and keep the path of the 
righteous'!" (B. M. 83a). The law gave the employer the 
right to make the carriers pay for the damage they caused by 
their carelessness. Abba Areka, however, thought that consid- 
eration for the poor laborers should outweigh the letter of the 
law. He quotes a higher law, "To walk in the way of good 
men. ' ' This higher law should make one forego his legal claims 
when these affect a poor laborer. Compare this fine spirit with 
the modern practice of deducting from the meagre wages of the 
servants and shopworkers for accidental damages caused by 


We turn now to a consideration of some law r s of the Halakah 
which deal with other relations between man and man. The 
Halakah embraces a w r hole group of laws defining man's atti- 
tude toward his neighbor, which are not directly derived from 
the la\vs of Moses and in fact do not properly belong in a legal 
code. These Halakic laws are based uj)on the ethical principle, 
that a man must be mindful of his neighbor's welfare. He is 
not permitted to insist upon his legal rights merely for the pur- 



pose of spiting his neighbor. Nor can he argue petty advantage 
in favor of his conduct. One illustration will suffice to explain 
this Halakic principle. 

Two brothers or partners, A and B, divide an estate between 
them. One of them, A, has another piece of property adjoining 
the estate in question. The Halakah gives him the option of 
choosing that part of the estate which joins his other property; 
the other partner, B, is not permitted to claim the petty advan- 
tage which might accrue to him from having his estate protected 
on both sides by the property of A. The Halakah weighs the 
advantage of B over against the disadvantage that would arise 
to A from having his two estates separated, and decided in 
favor of A. By the letter of the law B is not bound to consider 
the convenience of A, and from a legal point of view he could 
insist upon his right to choose or to have the choice decided by 
lot. However, such an insistance upon one's legal rights with- 
out due regard for the convenience of his neighbor's is con- 
demned by the Halakah and is characterized as the attitude of 
the wicked people of Sodom. The Halakah assumes the author- 
ity to prevent people from acting in such a manner. 53 


The following laws obtain in the case of adjoining neigh- 
bors. The Halakah demands that the interests of adjoining 
neighbors be considered in the disposition of property. The 
halakic regulations in this regard are called Nisa in 'in, ''The 
rights of adjoining neighbors." According to these regula- 
tions a property-owner has a prior claim to purchase adjoining 
property over any other person. If the owner of the adjoin- 
ing property ignores this right of his adjoining neighbor and 
sells the property to a third person, the latter may be com- 
pelled to turn over the property to the adjacent neighbor, re- 
ceiving only the purchase price. The Halakah quotes Deut. 
vi. 18: "And thou shalt do that which is right and good in the 
sight of the Lord" as a, justification for granting these rights 

53 DT1D mo ty PD13 ibidem, 12a. 



to the neighbors. 54 The teachers of the Halakah believed that 
it would be displeasing to God if one should not give his 
neighbor preference over a stranger. 


The same tendency of fostering friendly relations is found 
in other regulations of the HalaKah which aim to settle peace- 
fully the differences between partners. Thus, for instance, if 
one of two partners desires to bring about a dissolution of 
the partnership, the Halakic regulation is as follows: If the 
property or business to which they are partners can be equally 
divided, so that each half does not depreciate in value, one can 
force the other to divide. 55 However, if the property is of 
such a nature that, when divided in two, each half will have 
less value than fifty per cent, of the whole, then one partner 
cannot force the other to divide the property. In this case the 
dissatisfied partner has the right to fix an equitable price upon 
his half and force the other either to purchase it or sell him 
his own half at the same price. 56 In this regulation the Halakah 
is prompted by the desire to maintain peaceful relations be- 
tween the partners, realizing that if forced to stay together 
strife would ensue. 

For the same reason the Halakah prohibits one partner from 
selling his share in the property to a stranger without the con- 
sent of the other partners. 57 The new partner may not be agree- 
able, and should, therefore, not be forced upon the other part- 
ners. The teachers of the Halakah made the above enactments 
for the establishment of good-will. They felt themselves justi- 
fied in doing so, on the principle that the aim and purpose of 
the entire Torah is to establish peace and good-fellowship among 
men. 58 

"Ibidem, 108ab. Compare also Vidal in his Commentary Maggid Mish- 
neh to Maimonides' Jad. Hilkot Shekenim, end, about the ethical purpose 
of the laws of N1XD 13 

88 M. B. Batra, I, 6. 

56 TUN IN TIJ B. Batra, 13a. 

W B. Mezia, 108a. 

"Gittin, 59b. 




On the same principle the Halakah prohibits a man from 
bidding for an article whose purchase is being considered by 
another. 59 Consideration for one's fellow-man is at the bottom 
of the halakic prohibition against opening a barber shop or a 
tailor shop or the like in a neighborhood where one already 
exists. For the new shop is bound to take away trade from 
the older one. This restriction, however, does not extend to 
stores which supply the necessaries of life. 60 In the latter case 
the opening of new stores may act as a wholesome check upon 
the monopolization of trade by any one store on any street. 
The Halakah preferred to encourage legitimate competition in 
order that the poor consumer might get the necessaries of life 
as cheaply as possible. Thus the Halakah permits the store- 
keeper to give little gifts to the children who are sent by their 
parents to make purchases, for the purpose of inducing them to 
come again. 61 The Rabbis did not consider this a form of 
rebate, but a form of legitimate competition. 


The same regard for the needs of the poor consumer was the 
motive of the Halakic regulation prohibiting dealers from put- 
ting articles of food into storage for the purpose of raising the 
price. 62 Similarly, it is prohibited to export articles of food to 
foreign countries lest this practice w r ould raise the price of these 

** Kiddushin, 59a. 

80 B. Batra, 21b. By this distinction between a trade which supplies 
the necessaries of life and other business, the apparent contradiction be- 
tween the opinion of R. Huna, who followed Simon b. Gamaliel, and the 
Baraitha, permitting to open a store which supplies the necessaries of life 
or a bath-house, which is also considered a necessity is removed. 

41 Ibidem, 1. c. Lazarus, Ethik, I, p. 303, incorrectly states that the 
Halakah forbids this practise of competition. He evidently mistook the 
opinion of R. Judah for the accepted Halakah. The accepted Halakah, how- 
ever, follows the opinion of the majority of the teachers who opposed R. 
Judah and permitted this form of competition. See Maimonides, Jad 
Hilkot Mekirah, XVIII, 4, and Shulhan Aruk, Hoshen Mishpat, 228, 18. 

"Ibidem, 89b. 



articles at home. 63 Some teachers go even so far as to prohibit 
the making of profits from dealing in ' foodstuffs, 64 evidently 
intending to exclude the middleman. The Halakah also gave 
the authorities supervision of all dealings in articles of food and 
power to regulate market prices. 65 The Halakah condemns the 
practice of adulterating food 66 as well as of selling articles under 
false labels. 67 

Some of these halakic regulations concerning matters of 
business may seem quite antiquated in the modern world of 
business. Possibly this artlessness may spring from the fact 
that the Rabbis innocently believed that even business furnished 
a field for the cultivation of the virtues. We are not concerned 
with the applicability of these laws to modern conditions. We 
are interested in the fact that the Halakah considered business 
from an ethical point of view. Quite in keeping with this atti- 
tude we find that the teachers of the Halakah were opposed to 
what is popularly known in our day as "shopping." "If you 
have no intention of buying, do not ask the price ' ' 68 was the 
maxim of the Rabbis. They also say, "Do not bargain for any 
article if you have no money. " 69 It is not right to cause the 
store-keeper unnecessary work and to arouse expectations which 
we have no intention to gratify. These injunctions of the Rabbis 
may not prove popular with modern shoppers ; in fact, they were 
probably not popular with ancient shoppers, but their ethical 
value cannot be denied. 


Led by the tendency to consider the spirit of the law, the 
Halakah teaches that a man should not avail himself of a legal 

63 Ibidem, 1. c. 

64 B>D3 ^2 rD "lantWrt IIDN B. Batra, 90a. 
"Ibidem, 89a. 

66 Mekilta Mishpatim, XIII; Weiss, 96a. 

67 Hullin, 94a. It is forbidden to sell to a non-Jew trefah meat, because 
the non-Jew buying it in a Jewish butcher shop is misled to believe it to 
be kosher meat. 

68 np'^ nsn i3'K Kim m pen nara i 1 ? ia' & Sifra, Behar. IV; Weiss, 

^-D'BI ff rV nyttO npon ty niDJ?n K 1 ? M. B. Mezia,. IV, 10; Tosefta, 
III, 25. 



privilege whereby lie harms his fellow-man. Thus, for in- 
stance, the debtor is admonished not to avail himself of the 
Sabbatical year to avoid paying his debts. 70 The teachers could 
not very well express this admonition in the form of a law, be- 
cause according to a law in the Torah (Deut. xv. 2) all debts 
were canceled by the Sabbatical year. Therefore they could 
only urge upon the debtor to forego his legal right because in- 
sistence would work against the spirit of the Torah "whose 
ways are ways of pleasantness and all \vhose paths are peace. ' ' 

In like manner the Halakah strongly condemns certain ac- 
tions which violate the higher moral law, although they do 
not constitute a violation of the civil law. The verdict of the 
Halakah in such cases is : " He is free according to the laws of 
men, but guilty according to the judgments of God." 71 


We now turn to a consideration of those cases, wherein the 
Halakah found it necessary to abolish certain Biblical laws 
which it conceived to be out of harmony with the spirit of the 
Torah. In such cases they would justify their procedure on 
the principle mentioned above that: "When the cause of true 
religion demands, certain laws may be abolished, " '-ft ^vy^ r\y 
imin nun . As peace and brotherly love is the aim of religion, 
they would abolish such laws of the Bible, as, in their opin- 
ion, tended to lessen peace and brotherly love. A few instances 
may be cited here. 72 

First is the well-known institution of the Prosbul. This 
practically nullifies the law (Deut. xv. 1-2) which declares that 
the Sabbatical year cancels all debts. This institution was in- 
troduced by Hillel because he observed that the effect of the 

70 UDn nma moan rrn n'youo mn innon M. Shebiit, X, 9. 

71 D'DB> O'T3 O'm DTK 'JH3 11BB Tosefta Shebuot, III, B. Kamma, 

n I cite here only such cases in which the Halakah avowedly declares 
that it consciously changes or modifies the biblical law for some ethical 
reason. There are, however, many other instances in which the Halakah, 
influenced by its higher ethical conceptions, unconsciously, so to speak, 
explained away or changed biblical laws. 



Biblical law was to deter people from loaning to the needy, a 
practice which violates the higher moral command of the Torah 
(Deut. xv. 9) which enjoins upon us not to refrain from 
lending to the poor. 73 

Another instance of abolishing a Biblical law is found in 
the Halakic enactment, tending to facilitate the collection of 
debts. The Biblical law requires the same severe examination 
of evidence in civil as in criminal cases. This would obviously 
complicate the collection of debts and discourage the creditor 
from lending. As this would ultimately work harm to the 
borrower, the Halakah therefore, ignores the Biblical law, giv- 
ing as its reason "in order not to close the door against the 
prospective borrower. ' ' 74 

The following is another instance, where the Halakah changes 
a Biblical law, realizing that its application might become the 
cause of unfair dealings and the source of friction in business 
relations. According to the Biblical law a purchase of chattels 
is consummated by payment of purchase price. The teachers 
of the Halakah feared, and no doubt their fears were based 
upon actual experiences, that the application of this law would 
be productive of evil results under certain conditions. If, for 
instance, the purchaser failed to remove the purchased article 
immediately, there is a possibility that the seller, having received 
the price, would not take such care of the article, as if it were 
his own. In case of danger by fire, for instance, he might be 
tempted not to put forth any effort to save it. Even if he made 
such an effort and failed, the suspicion of carelessness would 
arise in the mind of the purchaser. Thus the application of the 
Biblical law might result in mutual distrust and ill feeling. To 
avoid this the Halakah rules, contrary to the Biblical law, that 
purchase is consummated only by actual acquisition. 75 Here 
again, we are not concerned with the relative merits of the 
Biblical and halakic laws. We are merely interested in the 
fact that the change made by the Halakah was prompted by the 

73 M. Shebiit, X, 3. 

~ A I'll^ >3S3 nVl ^lyifl N^t? 'T3 Sanhedrin, 2b-3a, Ketubot, 88a. 

" B. Mezia, 47b. 



ethical consideration of avoiding strife and dispute. This fur- 
ther proves that the teachers of the Halakah made the laws of 
the Torah measure up to their ethical standards. 

It was only because of their conviction that the aim and pur- 
pose of the Torah was to establish peace and love, justice and 
righteousness, that the Rabbis dared apply to the Biblical laws 
the test of ethical valuation. When they realized that under 
the changed conditions a given law could no longer serve that 
high purpose of the Torah, they did not hesitate to modify it. 


We have endeavored to ascertain the ethical standards of 
the Halakah by examining some of its direct enactments and 
certain changes made by it in the Biblical laws. We now pass 
to a consideration of a number of indirect statements made by 
the teachers of the Halakah which will serve to confirm these 
deductions. The ideas expressed in debates, the arguments ad- 
vanced in the discussions of various laws, the casual remarks 
made in explaining certain Biblical enactments, are very tell- 
ing indications of the principles which guided the teachers 
of the Halakah. These impromptu remarks, expressed in dis- 
cussions, reveal the character and the moral outlook of the dis- 
putants. This is especially the case when we find the teachers 
of the Halakah raising objections to some of the laws or to 
certain applications of the Law on the ground of ethical con- 
sideration. I shall cite a few instances of such discussions 
which reveal the ethical ideas always in the mind of the Rabbis. 
I shall select these instances from themes which seem to offer 
very little scope for the expression of ethical principles. 

Thus in discussing the prohibition against carrying a burden 
on the Sabbath, the rule is laid down that a man may carry 
on his person that which is generally considered an article of 
adornment or decoration. One' of the teachers expressed his 
opinion in favor of permitting a man to wear his armor on 
the Sabbath on the ground that armor is an adornment, ;n pro' err 



ti . However, the other teachers objected to this opinion, giv- 
ing as a reason that weapons do not constitute an adornment 
but a disgrace to mankind. Because it is said: "And they shall 
beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning 
hooks, nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall 
they learn war any more." 76 (Isa. ii. 4.) Our efforts to realize 
the ideal of peace must begin with learning not to glory in 
weapons of war. Here we see that the prophetic ideal of peace 
was in the minds of the teachers of the Halakah even when 
they discussed purely ritualistic laws. 


Likewise in discussing certain points of the law of the 
Levirate marriage, the teachers of the Halakah were influenced 
in their decisions by considerations for the feelings of the wom- 
an. They would in certain cases not countenance the application 
of the law because it would put an indignity upon the woman. 
They justify this, their attitude with the statement that such 
an application of the law would not be in accord with the 
spirit of the Torah ' ' whose ways are ways of pleasantness and all 
whose paths are peace. ' ' 77 


Another such instance is found in the discussion of the laws 
pertaining to vows. It must be said parenthetically that the 
Rabbis were strongly opposed to the popular practice of making 
vows, especially as some of these vows were often made in the 
heat of anger. The Halakah discusses the conditions under 
which a man may retract his vow. If a man makes a vow 
under an illusion concerning facts, or under a misapprehension 
concerning consequences, the vow is voidable. Upon ascertain- 
ing the correct facts or upon realizing the grave consequences 
he may apply to the court (Beth Din) to declare the vow null 
and void. The procedure of the court was to examine the per- 

74 M. Shabbat, VI, 4. 
77 Jebamot, 15a and 87b. 



son with the view of ascertaining whether he was correctly in- 
formed, when he made his vow, both as to facts and as to pos- 
sible consequences. To this end the court permitted itself 
to point out any grave consequence that might have escaped 
the notice of the person, but which, if known, would have de- 
terred him. 

R. Meier advised that we should ask the person, if at the 
time of making the vow he was aware of the fact that his vow 
might involve the violation of a moral law. The court should 
say to him, "If you had known that in taking such a vow you 
were violating the law 'Thou shalt not avenge or bear any 
grudge' (Levit. xix. 18), and the law, 'Thou shalt not hate 
thy brother in thy heart' (Ibid. xix. 17), and the law, 'Thou 
shalt love thy neighbor as thyself (Ibid. xix. 18) and the law 
commanding you to give assistance to the poor, expressed in 
the words of Leviticus xix. 36, 'That he may live with thee.' 
Did you consider that the person against whom you vowed 
might become poor and thus you would be prevented from ren- 
dering succor unto him?" If he says, "Had I known all this 
I would not have vowed" that man is free from his vow. 78 
What stronger proof do we need than the examples quoted, that 
the Rabbis were always animated by the highest ideals. We may 
disagree with them as to the whole subject of vows, but we 
must admire the high moral plane whereon they discussed this 
purely formalistic subject. 


Another instance of this kind is found in the rules of the 
Halakah concerning the Erub Hazerot. By the ceremony of the 
Erub, the families living in one court are fictitiously united 
into one household by taking a meal in one common room, ac- 
cessible to all. In this ceremony the teachers of the Halakah 
saw a way of establishing peace and friendly relations between 
the inhabitants of the same court or the neighbors on the same 
street. 79 A story is told of two enemies who became reconciled 

T8 M. Nedarin, IX, 4. 

m 'iBD nnsm JOiyO Jer. Erubin, III, p. 20d. 



through this ceremony. And the Rabbis conclude, that in this 
manner is illustrated the truth of the saying that all the ways 
of the Torah are ways of pleasantness and all her paths lead 
to peace. 80 

The same thought suggests itself to the Rabbis, when they 
discuss the selection of the palm branch as one of the four plants 
to be used on Sukkoth. 81 


The Rabbis tried further to carry out the purpose of the 
Torah by enacting a whole group of laws for the sake of further- 
ing peace among all men, Jew and gentile alike. 82 Thus, for 
instance, the Halakah enacts that we should do charity to the 
poor, of non-Jews also, that we should bury their dead and 
attend to their funerals and deliver for them funeral addresses 
and condole with their mourners just as we would do all these 
things to Jews, in order that peace and goodwill might prevail 
among all men. 83 



The last-mentioned regulations bring us to a discussion of the 
halakic rules concerning charity. This subject I will only touch 
upon very briefly because it has been exhaustively treated by 
several authors. In these rules the tendency of the Halakah 
to make man fulfil the commandments, "Thou shalt love thy 
neighbor as thyself," and "that he may live with thee," clearly 
manifests itself. Here again, the teachers of the Halakah 
realized that it was not sufficient merely to preach high ideals. 

80 Di^tr n'mi'W ^>3i DJHJ 3Yi PPSYT mrim K>n nn ibidem, l. c. 

81 Sukkah, 32b. 

82 M. Gittin, V, 8, and Tosefta, V, 4-5. 

""Tosefta Gittin, 1. c. That the meaning of the phrase Dl^tt> '31T OBD 
is "for the sake of furthering peace and good will among all men" and 
not "merely to maintain peaceful relations with the heathen," as some 
Christian theologians would interpret it, has been proved by Lazarus, 
"^thik, I, pp. 182-83, and F. Perles, Bousset's Religion des Judentums. 



They realized the necessity of establishing laws, whereby those 
who were able should be compelled to give charity and whereby 
the community would be compelled to render assistance to its 
dependents. Here, as elsewhere, they realized that practical 
legislation must be content to achieve what is possible under 
the circumstances. Thus, whatever lofty ideas about spontaneous 
charity they expressed in their agadic utterances, and they have 
many such ideas, in their legal enactments they confined their 
efforts to what they considered practical. They aimed to secure 
for the poor the help that he needed and to impress upon the 
rich the obligation that rested upon him. In other words, they 
tried to make of charity what its Hebrew term, npi2 connotes, 
namely, justice to the rights of the poor. This idea of jus- 
tice in charity, demands that charity be collected only from 
those that are able to give and distributed only among those 
wiio really need it. The Halakah, accordingly, regulated by 
law, the collection and distribution of charity. They deter- 
mined by law those who must contribute and in what proportion 
to their income. They also determined those to whom charity 
should be given and how it should be rightly administered. 84 
They permitted one exception to the rules regarding investiga- 
tion. A hungry person should be fed without investigation. 85 
In all these laws laid down in the Mishnah and the Talmud and 
embodied in all the later halakic codes, there is a spirit of broth- 
erly love and true sympathy for the poor. These laws lay especial 
stress upon protecting those who are compelled to take charity. 
Assistance should be rendered in such a manner that the re- 
cipient be made to feel that he is receiving justice and not char- 
ity. In this manner the idea is emphasized that we are all 
brothers, children of one Father in Heaven. If we give from 
our abundance to the poor, we are, according to the Halakah, 
acting as stewards in our Father's household and we give to the 

"Mishnah and Tosefta Peah, and in sayings scattered throughout the 
Talmud, see, also, Maimonides, Jad, Mattenot Aniyyim, and Shulhan Aruk 
Yore Deah, 246-259. 

^niilTO^ I'pin P B. Batra, 9a, according to the opinion of R. 
Judah, which is supported by a Baraita. 



poor brother what our Father^ intrusted to us for that purpose, 
for we and our good belong to the Lord. 86 


I feel that the above examination of the halakic laws and 
regulations concerning man's relation to his fellow-man will con- 
vince the unbiased that the Halakah, in interpreting and apply- 
ing the Biblical laws, as w r ell as in its own legal enactments, was 
guided by the highest ethical principles. We have seen that as 
practical legislators, they often had to content themselves with 
merely approaching the ideal, but they never forgot the two 
fundamental principles, the fatherhood of God and the brother- 
hood of man. They constantly kept before them the vision of a 
united humanity worshiping the one true God. 


Even when occupied with those halakic regulations which 
tended to keep Israel separate from the other peoples, as, for 
instance, the dietary laws, the peculiar customs and religious 
ceremonies, the teachers of the Halakah did not forget these 
lofty ideals. It was not contempt or hatred for other people 
that prompted the teachers of the Halakah in upholding and 
developing these ritual laws and ceremonial customs. Neither 
did the teacjiers consider these laws of perennial value. As we 
have heard above, these laws were considered merely a com- 
mentary, which at some time and under certain conditions might 
even be dispensed with. All these ceremonial laws and customs 
were conceived by the teachers of the Halakah to be a useful 
means to a noble end. They served, in the opinion of the 
teachers, to make Israel a distinct and holy people and to enable 
him to teach his moral and religious truths to the other peoples 
of the world. In their agadic sayings these teachers often ex- 
pressed their hope for the ultimate conversion of all nations 
to the worship of one God. They displayed a readiness to re- 
ceive and welcome proselytes. They even recognized the re- 

84 M. Abot, III, 8. 



ligious equality of the pious ones among the gentiles, the 
D^ipn main nDn, although not formally converted to Judaism. 
With all that, the teachers of the Halakah were convinced 
and we share their conviction that it was absolutely necessary 
for the priest and teacher of the nations to preserve his iden- 
tity, that Israel as a religious people should remain distinct. In 
their opinion the dietary laws and the peculiar customs were 
the surest safeguards of the Jewish identity and most conducive 
for the preservation of the distinctive religious character of the 
Jewish people. No student of Jewish history can dare say that 
they were wrong. Nobody can deny that these ancient Jewish 
teachers accomplished their purpose. By their halakic regula- 
tions they preserved the Jewish people and through it the her- 
itage of the prophets, Judaism. Moreover, these ancient teach- 
ers of the Halakah have showed how to preserve Israel and his 
teachings. In their path the Jewish teachers of all subsequent 
generations have followed. 


We, the present-day teachers of Judaism, also follow in the 
path of those ancient teachers. We preserve the continuity 
of Jewish teachings and Jewish religious thought. In spirit 
and in purpose, in principles of conduct and in essentials of 
belief, we are at one with those ancient teachers in Israel. We 
differ from them in the details of practice, but these are minor 
differences. It is true, that many of the laws and regulations 
of the Talmudic Halakah have been discarded by us. Many of 
the practices taught by the ancient teachers have been abolished 
because they have outlived their usefulness. Many of the ritual 
forms and religious ceremonies which served the ancient teachers 
as vehicles for religious ideas, being no more in harmony with 
our modern ideas, have been changed or modified. Indeed, the 
whole system of civil law which formed a great part of the 
Talmudic Halakah has been relegated to the civil authorities. 
This, too, paradoxical as it may sound, is in keeping with a 
Talmudic principle which declares J-ICN ix^ciiw UCM that, "the 
civil law of the country is to be considered as the civil law of 



the Jew." 87 However, all these differences in custom and 
practice do not constitute essential differences between us and 
our predecessors, the Rabbis of old. The existence of these dif- 
ferences does not indicate an interruption in the continuity of 
the Jewish tradition. On the contrary, their very presence 
emphasizes this continuity, for change does not always indicate 
a break with the past. 


In instituting these changes, we are merely doing the same 
thing which our ancient teachers did. The Halakah, as a com- 
plex of laws, forms and customs, is not something fixed or per- 
manent. Its very name, Halakah, na^n , suggests movement and 
progress. There has always been an older and a newer Halakah. 
From its very beginning, the Halakah was constantly changing 
and developing. Ours is the youngest Halakah, representing 
its latest development, but it is still the living stream of 
Jewish Halakah. We also have a complex of laws, forms and 
customs, whereby we regulate our religious life our Halakah. 
In a good and sufficient sense we are also separatistic, as were 
our forefathers. We also keep ourselves distinct and separate 
from all other peoples in our religious life. We have a ritual 
of our own and religious ceremonies of our own, which are for 
the most part the same as those of our forefathers, only Codi- 
fied and adapted to our time and country. We also have cer- 
tain peculiar forms for expressing our religious ideas. We have 
our Jewish festivals, our historic Jewish Sabbath. We worship 
in our own way and in our own houses of prayer. Thus, we 
are. in a religious sense, separatistic as were the ancient teachers 
of the Halakah. Like them, we also want to maintain our Jewish 
identity; we seek to preserve the priest-people Israel. We use 
the means we think best fitted for our time. The ancient teach- 
ers used the means they thought best fitted for their time. The 
modern Ha^kah. i=t as the ancient Halakah, aims to accomplish 
the same end, to preserve Israel as the priest-teacher of the 

" Gittin, 6b. 



nations. Nobody would think of accusing us of having forgotten 
the prophetic ideals of love, justice, righteousness and univer- 
sal brotherhood in spite of the fact that^ we are in a sense 

It is just as illogical to accuse the ancient teachers of the 
Halakah of having forgotten the prophetic ideals because of 
the separatistic tendencies found in their Halakic teachings. 
The ancient teachers of the Halakah realized that if Israel was 
to accomplish his task of spreading the knowledge of God on 
earth, they must preserve the agent who is to do this work, they 
must see to it that Israel should not become submerged among 
the nations of the world. And we, to-day, whose task it is 
to continue the work of the prophets and of the ancient teachers 
of Judaism,' likewise realize, that in order to carry out our 
mission, it is absolutely necessary that we preserve our Jewish 
religious individuality. We must keep ourselves religiously sep- 
arate from the other peoples and be an tmp oy , a holy nation. 
Thus alone can we accomplish our mission and bring nigh the 
time when "the earth will be full of the knowledge of God as 
the waters cover the sea.''